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Friday, July 28, 2006

Glowering inferno

I just don't have the chops to give you anything cogent on the current Middle East mess. But everyone else is blogging about it, and I find I have some stuff to say on the subject too, however witless or unoriginal it all may be:

I hate to employ hoary old cliches any more than I must, so I want to avoid calling the Middle East a 'tinderbox'. Anyway, I'm not sure it really is a tinderbox. It strikes me that it's much more like a 55 gallon drum of nitroglycerin. And right now, Israel and Hizbullah are taking turns lobbing hand grenades at it.

I have no sides to take here. I've hated Arabic culture, and the violently xenophobic fanaticism it perspires, since long before 9/11. And I've long sympathized with the plight of Israel. However, I have no degrees or training or experience with complex international politics, and even I can see that Israel is fucking up right now. Responding to terrorism with terrorism is never a justified move, and even the argument that Israel is constantly fighting for its survival against determined, fanatical, and ruthless enemies on all sides won't stretch to cover its latest decision to start shelling Lebanese civilians.

Again... I don't know. Hizbullah isn't a nation, and it's inarguable that it takes advantage of civilized notions of morality. It deliberately hides weapons caches within civilian residential areas. Its fighters wear no uniforms, or deliberately wear uniforms identical to those of its enemies. And it openly embraces terrorist tactics like targeting civilians, using the justification that when facing an enemy like Israel, there are no non-combatants. How do you fight a movement like that? I guess you kill everything that walks, crawls, or flies in any area where such a movement might be hiding. And I guess that's what Israel is doing.

But, again, I have no novel insights here. At bottom and last, I want to like Israel more than its various Arabic enemies, because Israel, to the best of my knowledge, doesn't pay death benefits to the families of suicide bombers, nor does it think dressing a baby up as a suicide bomber is a funny joke, nor does it regard mandatory genital mutiliation of its female citizenry as being an important ethnic tradition. But, still... dropping bombs on civilian targets isn't cool.

So I don't know.

Here's what I do know -- in 2004, OPEC countries accounted for 40% of the world's oil production. And all that oil flows through the Middle East. And if you keep throwing hand grenades at that particular drum of nitroglycerine, eventually it's going to explode, and all that oil will stop flowing... maybe forever, but at the very least, for a very very long time.

Our strategic petroleum reserve is something less than one billion barrels. By which I mean, it's supposed to be at a billion barrels, but right now, it's at considerably less.

Even if our reserves were at the level the government deems they should be, a billion barrels only sounds impressive. The U.S. actually consumes just under 23 million barrels of oil a day. (Probably more, that's a 2005 figure.) Do the math. If the Middle East blows up and the oil stops flowing, we have around 40 days supply in the bank.

Actually, considerably less than that, given that our oil consumption is undoubtedly higher right now (it never goes down, regardless of price; we Americans simply will not conserve unless you put a gun to our heads, as Dick Cheney so admirably puts it, "the American way of life is not negotiable") than that estimate, and our reserve isn't anything like a billion barrels. (And most of what we do have is sour crude, not sweet, which takes more refining, and yields less usable fuel. And our lords and masters have been dipping into the strategic reserve to keep gas prices artificially lower than market price domestically, anyway, as it's an election year.)

Of course, should the Middle East blow up and a state of emergency be declared where we actually have to really dig into the SPR, we won't continue consumption at our 'normal' level. At that point, massive conservation programs would become mandatory to stretch our reserves as far as possible, with priority being given to vital national interests, like farming and trucking and keeping planes in the air and continuing to blow up civilians in Iraq and keeping those advanced munitions pouring into Israel and making sure all the SUVs and Cadillacs being driven by members of Congress keep running. Which will mean gas rationing for the peons, like you and me, and suddenly the American way of life will become very negotiable.

And any of this could happen at any moment. Because, as I say, the Middle East is a 55 gallon drum of nitroglycerine, and right now, a bunch of maniacs are lobbing hand grenades at it.

And, of course, the maniacs on our side won't do anything towards getting a cease fire in place, because... well, I don't know. If I were paranoid, I'd say it's because Bush and Cheney are hoping the Middle East blows up, because a state of emergency is a wonderful time to declare martial law, and this is, after all, an election year, and the polls aren't running well for the National Socialis... er... I mean, the Republicans... right now.

Personally, I see all these liberal blogs counting down the days until Bush leaves office, and I just want to bang my head on the wall. Anyone who thinks Bush... or at least, the current administration... is leaving office at the end of this term is nuts. Maybe we'll have a Presidential election in 2008, in which case, the current people in power will cook it as thoroughly as they have the last two. But more and more these days, I doubt we'll even bother going through the motions. There is plenty of time to find some excuse to declare martial law... and I simply cannot believe that the evil greedy fucks in office are ever going to surrender power again, now that they've achieved near total lockdown on the apparatus of government here in America.

Like they say about their guns, we will at this point have to pry the machinery of power from their cold, dead fingers.

I'm not saying it isn't a good idea. I am saying, however, that it will be much harder work than any of us want to be bothered doing. In the end, as long as they can keep the electricity on, we will sit here like good little drones, enjoying our central heating/AC, and watching whatever they allow us to watch on cable TV.

Unless, of course, the barrel of nitroglycerine blows up. But that won't get the evil greedy fucks out of power; it will just mean we won't be as comfortable while we're getting screwed.


At 11:33 AM , Blogger MJ Norton said...

I didn't jump into a response to this for many of the same reasons you cite in the early portion of the piece. Add to this that I find both sides odious in their way, and am almost solely concerned with the innocents in both Israel and Lebanon who are being caught in the crossfire between two organizations (Hezbollah and the Israeli leadership) I would much rather see wipe each other out in a battle in some arena somewhere.

Certainly, a successful Israel isn't going to be a direct threat to us while anything that smacks of successful Islamic militantism will likely be. On the other hand, fictional history aside about a purely peaceful, democratically-formed and maintained Israel, it's almost impossible for me to defend Israel's actions, especially of late. Anbother at least 50 people killed, mostly women and children, just this morning when two Israeli rockets dropped the building they were hiding in down on them. Oh, how nice. The Israelis dropped warning leaflets ahead of time. Never mind that many of these people - like many of the poorest people in New Orleans - have no economic means with which to flee. It was bad enough in Louisiana, imagine how much moreso it is when it's a war zone all around?

Besides, Arabs have learned that if you flee a war zone during these times one may return to find that Israeli settlers have been given the land as part of a safety, buffer or security zone. Then again, if you stay you'll be treated as an enemy lying in wait, and the Israelis will slowly choke off almost every means you have of making a living. Your family has grown olives for generations? The trees will be cut down because they present a potential military hazard since they could provide cover to snipers. You have to get to a job in a neighboring town, or get your produce to market? Well, hey that could take days, or longer with all the checkpoints and border lockdowns for security purposes.

We're finding ourselves in a situation where the dynamics of the Cold War have been reassigned, and much as we supported terrible regimes in the name of holding a line against the spread of Communism, we're now attempting to do something similar as a means of holding back the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as a world-conquering force. The intent is good and admirable, but it's not going to work this way.

Militant Islam and Communism are different things, but what they have in common is that they're both things with maximum (conceptual) appeal to the downtrodden and oppressed. Those who feel ill-dealt at cards or who have been handed the shit end of the stick. That alone makes it dangerous because there's so many more of them than there are of the rest of us.

An underlying thread of the so-called democratization of the Middle East, something that most of the politicos dance around because everything's at such a delicate stage and it's important that it not be something that appears calculated, because then it will appear forced, is that some wise souls have realized that it'll be a more peaceful world if we can infect more of the world with our brand of consumer culture.

Oh, it won't make them any happier than it has us, but it'll pacify them and leave them feeling sufficiently comfortable and sufficiently invested in both obtaining the next level of comfort and in keeping the system in place that's bringing them the comforts they currently enjoy.

The delicate point is now because it's easier to start things off by tempting them with such comforts and entertainments than it is to provide them with a standard of living that will enable them to obtain them. This gives them time to either become resentful or to be wooed by the Islamic cultural fanatics who recognize that air conditioning and American Idol are their greatest enemies in the battle for hearts and minds.

Of course, beneath all that is something that ties in to the latter half of your piece, inasmuch that so much of the pacification we're ultimately selling is currently highly dependent on the energy resources in and around their region, and that's only going be depleted more rapidly as more people climb aboard.

Honestly, there have to be some people high up in government who have at least considered what a seeming godsend it would be to have a plague take out most of the population of the Middle East... and down into Africa, at least. Something with a high mortality rate but an even higher sterilization one.

Having it take out hundreds of thousands and more of our own, and even millions of our allies in the process would be part of an effective smokescreen to hide any complicity behind, and what administration has been more adept at this one in turning all valid suspicions into ridiculed conspiracy theories?

At 6:36 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

Well, over at the woo-woo sites I sometimes frequent, they'll happily and eagerly tell you that the ethnically targeted bugs have already been cooked up, and they're in the process of being tested on our population right now, before they're released in the Middle East.

It's one of those things I simply do not want to believe, so I don't... although I can't find any real reason why it shouldn't be true. Certainly we have the technological know how to do it. If our government CAN do it, and there's an advantage to be gained FROM doing it, and no real disadvantage TO doing it... why wouldn't they do it? Morality? Some compunction against killing millions of human beings? Fear of punishment by the United Nations?

I mean, honestly, all that just sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?

There's a longish post in me about the untenability, and basic, fundamental, underlying corruption, to the American Way of Life that Cheney insists is not negotiable. It's like a boil that hasn't burst yet. I suppose it may, eventually. Until then, suffice to say, I think spreading our way of life around the globe would be a dreadful thing to do to non-Americans... although our way of life is undoubtedly superior to what a great many of them have.

Still, there has to be something better. Good luck achieving it in the 21st Century, though.


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